Vayeira – What is More Important; Truth or Peace?

The surprising answer is found in our Torah reading this week.

The Torah reading of Vayeira opens with G-d informing Abraham and Sarah that after decades of barrenness, a son would be born to Sarah. Sarah received the news with astonishment, because the time when she was able to give birth had passed long ago, and there was no way she could naturally give birth.

The Torah describes Sarah's astonishment in the following verse (Gen. 18:4): “And Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have become worn out, will I have smooth flesh? And also, my master is old.” How can I give birth? My husband, Abraham, is too old to give birth.

G-d's response to Sarah's laughter was not long in coming: “And the L-rd said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “Is it really true that I will give birth, although I am old?”’ If we look carefully at the words we see that G-d didn’t quote Sarah exactly. Sarah didn’t say “I am too old”, but “my husband is too old.” Why did G-d changed her words so it sounded like she was attributing her barrenness to herself instead of to Abraham?

Our sages learn an important lesson from this change: we know that G-d's seal is truth. Truth is the very foundation of Judaism. We declare in the Shema, “I am the L-rd your G-d — this is the truth!” The Torah teaches us to maintain the truth at all costs and stay far away from falsehood.

Yet despite this, God changed the truth when the truth might cause controversy. When it comes to maintaining peace between a husband and a wife and between a person and his fellow man, our sages teach us that we are permitted to change the truth. Since Sarah’s words might be interpreted as if she is laying the fault for their barrenness on Abraham, G-d changed her words and had Sarah admit that the fault was hers. “I am old,” G-d quotes Sarah, instead of “my husband is old.” He did this to maintain their domestic harmony.

Aaron was also famous for this principle of “it is permitted to change the truth for the sake of peace.” Our sages tell us that when Aaron saw two people quarreling, he would go to one of them and tell him that his friend was sorry for what had happened, and he regrets the whole quarrel. Then he went to the other one and repeated the same thing, how much his friend is sorry about what happened and how he would love to go back to how things were in the past and be friends again.

Sometimes Aaron had to go back and forth several times the same day, sometimes after several days, but the goal was always the same: he made sure to warm up the relations between the two foes until when they finally met — they immediately hugged, shook hands, forgave each other and were at peace with each other again.

When Aaron was trying to make peace between two quarreling Jews, he changed the truth. Why? Because peace is too important. It is so important that it even overrides the truth. This is because peace is the ultimate truth in G-d’s eyes, even more than reality! This shows us how urgently we should avoid any controversy and conflict with our fellow man and with our spouses.

This is one of the major things demanded of us today, to feel as much love, brotherhood, and unity as possible, to do our best to speak to each other, dialogue, have a pleasant relationship, and not G-d forbid to talk about things that cause distance and irritation.

In that event, we will inevitably merit the blessing of peace: “The L-rd will give strength to His people, G-d will bless His people with peace.”
Created from a lecture on the Hidabrut web site.


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